Lang takes us to Lincoln; very apt, given my question. After all, Lincoln vies with Washington for the top spot in the halls of our leaders, and rightfully so; they were the leaders whose individual tenacity and leadership created and preserved this union.
Under their respective eras of leadership, our nation faced the most critical moments in our history, where survival and not merely prosperity hung in the balance. As a result, and not coincidentally, our government also grew under their leadership in ways that changed the very nature of our experimental Republic. Washington was the figure head of a new Federal government that laid the foundation to remove significant sovereign powers from the individual states. Lincoln went to war with half the country, instituted the draft and suspended habeus corpus to preserve the Union Washington had fathered.
Of the many similarities between these two statuesque statesmen, their stalwart guidance amidst crisis is the most notable. Of course, that is the point; they led in times of crisis, and the power granted them was taken up as a last resort. Government, under their watch, grew; for the good of the nation, for the sake of the people, some civil liberties were surrendered to the state. It is hardly daring to suggest that it is better so, but it is worth noting; it was as a last resort that they wielded (and expanded) the power of the state to solve the problems we faced.
This is my preamble in answer to the question. Our Government is a tool, used to provide an environment in which the liberties of our people may thrive, in which we may strive after prosperity and work to achieve individual success. As such, it is dangerous to assign to the government the responsibility of championing the cause of equality for our citizens. Equality of condition is not a guarantee amongst free men; only equal opportunity to pursue the condition of our choosing.
Some will argue that the monumental spending of our new government, as well as the taxes levied to provide for it, are the necessary steps to provide that equal opportunity. The trouble with this proposition is that these steps are radical, and hark-en back to the revolutionary actions taken by leaders in the midst of life and death struggles. While our current prospects are grim, they have not yet ripened to full-blown disasters; yet our government would propel us forwards as if we were struggling to overcome our very death-throes. This is not the careful leadership of a government intent on protecting the rights of the people, loathe to take up power lest it rob it’s citizens of the ability to determine their own best course; this is an expansive government eager to take from it’s citizens the ability to make mistakes, which will necessarily hamper our potential for success.
If this Republic would weather the challenges we face, it would be wise to consider the examples of those leaders who faced real and difficult challenges to our continued survival; those who took up the power of the government as a last resort, who used it sparingly, knowing that once expanded, the government is nearly impossible to shrink. It is wrecklessly rash to employ such an instrument as the solution to the social problems of health-care, education, and mortgages; yet this is almost prudent when compared with the disastrous policies that would allow the government to unlock the credit of the nation without accountability. For liberty to remain the highest ideal in our nation, it must not be the default position of our government to envelope the burdens we the people face; it is for us to rise to the challenges we face. Failure to shoulder this burden represents more than merely an inability to realize our potential or a stumble on the road to prosperity; relinquishing such sweeping power to the government, absent of an actual cataclysmic disaster, is a failure of the people to live up to the responsibility which accompanies the privilege of freedom. Failures of this kind have produced tyrants, from Caesar & Bonaparte to Hitler & Stalin.
If we would be free, we must remember that this Government is “for the people” and we are not for it. ‘